By Tom E. Curran
Start ordering those party platters for February 6. The Patriots chances of playing in the Super Bowl increased exponentially Saturday night. Ableak week of Ray Rice, revenge, reviling Ray Lewis and the revolting mug of Terrell Suggs we won't have to deal with. Instead, weget Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, Polamalu's salad and the blitz schemes of Dick LeBeau.
Once the Patriots take care of business against the New York Jets as they ought to on Sunday, the Steelers come next. And the Steelers can't beat the Patriots in a conference championship game. Just doesn't work. Had it been the Ravens, the swagger would have been de-swagged. The Patriots needed OT to beat Baltimore in Week 5, got crushed by them in last season's playoffs, barely hung on during the 2009 regular season and barely hung on during the 2007 regular season. The Ravens defense is nasty. And Suggs was playing like a force of nature. But the fact Baltimore has a better-than-average-but-not-by-much quarterback like Joe Flacco playing for them means they are going home. Once they stop bitching about the officials. Pittsburgh? In Roethlisberger, they have a legitimate "elite" quarterback, a guy who's got twice as many Super Bowl rings as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. You wouldn't want to see him show up in your driveway to pick up your daughter, but you would love to have Big Ben playing quarterback for you. Against most teams. But not New England. In Week 9, the Patriots beat Pittsburgh 39-26 and the stats Roethlisberger compiled (30 for 49 for 387 yards, 3 TDs and an INT)were a shining example of why QB passing stats are bogus. Roethlisberger took five sacks for 38 yards and the pick he threw was returned for a touchdown. He started 7 for 20 for 90 yards and took three sacks. After the score got to 29-10 early in the fourth (after the pick-6 by James Sanders), Big Ben went 14 for 16 (one was a spike) for 203 yards in chasing down a lost cause. When the game was a contest, he was 16 for 33 for 184 yards. Roethlisberger is 2-4 against the Patriots. He's 0-1 in the playoffs (the 2004 41-27 beatdown at Pittsburgh. He won his first start against the Pats in 2004 (the day Ty Law and Matt Light went down) and beat the Cassel-led Pats in 2008. Generally, the Patriots take care of business against Roethlisberger by lying back and making him process coverages. Eventually, he makes a wild throw because he's not terribly accurate. As for the Steelers defense, they can be a beast but not to Tom Brady. He's 6-1 against the Steelers lifetime. He toys with them. We've got plenty more to plow through on this matchup once it becomes a reality. Until then, treat yourself to some of this.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran
By Tom E. Curran